Op-Ed

Change a guy like Gatewood? Why?

Gatewood Galbraith, attorney for Charlie Puckett, the self-proclaimed leader  of the Kentucky Militia, holds a press conference in front of the Federal  Court building after Puckett s arraignment after he turned himself into  custody today in Lexington, Ky., on 4/4/02.
Gatewood Galbraith, attorney for Charlie Puckett, the self-proclaimed leader of the Kentucky Militia, holds a press conference in front of the Federal Court building after Puckett s arraignment after he turned himself into custody today in Lexington, Ky., on 4/4/02. Herald-Leader

Gatewood Galbraith's untimely death from pneumonia this week produced such an impressive outpouring of admiration from political leaders he opposed and journalists who never endorsed him in his five races for governor that I've been overcome with remorse for trying to reform him.

What on Earth was I thinking? It was over lunch at Ramsey's on High Street in Lexington (a symbolic thorofare on which to pitch a lifestyle change to Kentucky's best known advocate of legalized marijuana) that I told Gate it was time to straighten up and go on the lecture circuit.

This was back in the '80s or '90s (does it matter?) when he had stumbled once more at the finish line but left the whole state laughing over one of his humorous campaigns.

At Owensboro, Republican Larry Forgy later told me, Gatewood was sitting between him and Democrat Brereton Jones at a lunch for governor candidates. The audience was huge. Suddenly Gatewood jostled Forgy and Jones as he speared a dinner roll and began to butter it.

"Look at that crowd, Forgy," he mused. Then, turning to Jones, "Brery, I bet I'm the only sonovabitch here who came for the meal!"

Fast-forwarding to the post-election lunch at Ramsey's, I guess I was seized with the zeal of a recovering alcoholic who wants to dry up everybody else.

"Gatewood, you need a different public life," I said sternly. "Give up these silly races, get an agent to book you for speeches on the college campuses. You will drive those kids crazy with your jokes, make a lot of money, and then you can pay your bills and start taking your law practice seriously."

For the first time ever, he shot me a thoughtful glance. "You think so, Al? Well, how do I go about it?"

"I'll ask Carl Hurley (the ex-college professor with a national following as an after-dinner comic)," I promised. Hurley loved the idea, but his agent refused to help and told Hurley to stay away from Gatewood. "You are the clean funny man who gets all the gigs at family and church events," he reminded Carl. "Gatewood would roll 'em in the aisles on the campuses, but he doesn't belong on our team."

A week later, when I reported back, Gatewood took Hurley's rejection with grace. "That's all right, Al," he said gently. "I've got a better plan. Willie Nelson called. He wants me to join him on his bus for six weeks on the road. After he does the shows, we'll smoke a little pot together."

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